“Da’ house is black juju, boy. It blacker dan da brew of a nigger witch layin’ wit da devil on da year’s longes’, blackes’ nigh’.”
—Césarine “Tantsy” Rouselle
Friday afternoon, 21 August 2015
GM: In contrast to Bourbon Street’s gaudy, neon-lit sleaziness, the adjacent Royal Street is frequented by locals as well as tourists. True to its name, the historic street projects a more refined and dignified image than its northern neighbor. Visitors come here for galleries, restaurants, museums, and shopping at arts and antique stores that range from kitschy to high-end. Nearly every building seems to have a second floor wrought iron balcony railing dripping in ivy, greenery, and flowers. Street artists, buskers, and mimes still entertain picture-snapping passersby, but the homeless people and gutter punks from other parts of the Quarter are absent. Jazz drifts from fewer bars and clubs. The ones still present seem higher-class, and feel unlikely to tolerate drunks looking for a loud and riotous time that ends with someone heaving their stomach’s contents over the banquette.
Amelie’s path takes her to a three-story house built in the second-generation Creole style that is easily recognizable by its distinctive L-shape, flush position to the sidewalk, French doors, broad roofline supported by light wooden colonnettes, and generous, traditional wrought iron gallery overflowing with potted red and pink geraniums. (In southeast Louisiana, a distinction is made between “balconies”, which are self-supporting and attached to the side of the building, and “galleries,” which are supported from the ground by poles or columns.) A wooden sign hangs from the red-bricked building’s front entrance. Faded and crammed-in letters read:
Tante Lescaut’s Occult Curiosities, Horoscopes, & Palmistry
Amelie has to squint to make out the last two words below the shop’s name. They are even smaller and their paint is even more faded.
A more legible sign on the double French doors reads simply:
Amelie: 1721. If the owners aren’t lying about their heritage, this building has been standing since the Treaty of Nystad. Not even the nearby cathedral is that old, and just thinking about it gives Amelie momentary vertigo. She smooths a hand over the building’s brick and wonders if it’s been replaced since it was built.
She finally collects herself and steps inside, business card in hand.
GM: A store’s telltale chiming bell sounds as Amelie pushes the door open. The smell of old books, incense, and stranger things has barely filled her nostrils before three mewing cats—one gray tabby, one orange tabby, and one calico—rub up against her legs. Further meows sound from further inside the store. It’s a dark, claustrophobic space cramped with overflowing bookshelves, ancient paint-cracked radiators, and occult knick-knacks ranging from pin-stabbed voodoo dolls to coiled, insignia-painted snake skeletons that stare at Amelie with empty eye sockets. Pentagrams, dream-catchers, and apotropaic talismans dangle from ceilings and partly obscure the doorways’ bead curtains.
Cats are everywhere. They roam over the stage prop furniture, track soiled cat litter over the floor, and crouch from perches atop bookshelves to silently watch the store’s patrons. Two felines even lie sleeping on the countertop that shares the cash register. They casually claim the whole space without regard for the dark-haired person who is also trying to use it. Amelie isn’t sure if they’re a man or a woman. They’re South Asian, look somewhere in their twenties, and are dressed in a yellow… Amelie isn’t sure what it’s called either. Some kind of Indian-looking robe or dress. They’re also bedecked in a multichromatic array of crystal- and wood-beaded bracelets, necklaces, and pendants. A red bindi stares unblinkingly from their forehead while they chat with the store’s sole customer besides Amelie: a dreadlocked, unwashed-looking woman with unshaven legs who’s dressed in a half-torn, raggedy top, patch-quilted skirt, plain sandals, and animal tooth necklace. There’s a half-stoned look to her face as she fumbles through a pentagram-emblazoned bag and produces a fistful of one-dollar bills and assorted change that the South Asian person patiently counts by hand.
Amelie: Amelie finds herself assaulted by cats and doesn’t mind in the least. She leans down to give the three felines rubbing against her legs some love and affection before she carefully steps over them towards the desk. The animal lover in her keeps on the lookout for bombays, or black cats: her favorite breed of furred micro-predators. Still, she pulls herself together enough to clearly address the person behind the desk.
“Excuse me? Is Tante in? I was invited here to see them.”
GM: Amelie can spot at least one bombay among the mass of felines, along with a dozen other breeds ranging from pale-coated Siamese to gray-furred British shorthairs. The shop’s cats vastly outnumber its human residents, whose numbers are reduced by one-third after the unkempt-looking woman takes her leave with a mumbled thanks and plain brown bag of merchandise. The smells of pot and a deodorant-free lifestyle linger in Amelie’s nose.
“Namaste,” the other person responds to Amelie, clasping their hands together in a prayer-like gesture of greeting. “I am afraid dat Tante has been dead for over two hundred years. De shop today is managed by Césarine. Are you here to see her?”
Amelie: The cat Amelie spots becomes an instant favorite, but she keeps her attention forward as the woman in front of her departs and leaves her alone with the strangely-dressed person at the desk. The East Indian greeting throws her off at first, as does the rather morbid ‘news.’
“I guess I am. I assumed it was either a title or the store was renamed,” she offers, leaning against the desk. “Can I see them, then?”
GM: “Tante Lescaut vas de founder ov de shop. She built it from noting and left so much ov herself behind. To rename it vould have been untinkably vain,” the South Asian individual explains, smiling faintly. “De shop has alvays been Tante’s and vill alvays be Tante’s.”
Amelie: Amelie nods at the statement. It makes sense the store keeps a name that old to link back to its supposed history. She also has to wonder if the original Tante also kept so many cats around, though she’s not complaining.
GM: “But yes, Césarine, she is in. Césarine!” the Indian person calls loudly, turning towards a doorway with a bead curtain. “Césarine, we have a visitor!”
“Eh? Dat a cussomer?” comes an old-sounding woman’s gumbo-thick Creole reply.
“A visitor, Césarine! Maybe a customer,” Amelie’s initial greeter calls back.
“All righ’, all righ’, one momen’…”
Amelie: The Creole accent a small tip off as to what Amelie is dealing with. She stands up straight and stands there with the card in her hand as she waits for the woman to come out.
GM: Several feline mews and the faint rustle of beads heralds the elderly proprietor’s arrival through the curtain. Her skin is lumpy all over and so black it has a purple sheen, while her hair so grayed and frizzy that it looks like half-worn S.O.S. pads. Her sunken cheekbones are struck with rouge and her upper eyelids are painted with fluorescent shades of pale lilac. She wears a blue moo-moo stitched with yellow stars, moons, and more esoteric planetary symbols, along with bifurcated librarian glasses that look plucked straight out of the 1960s. Three cats purr and circle around her spider-veined, swollen legs and sandal-beaded feet.
The old woman squints at Amelie past her glasses. “Eh? You a vis’tor, boy? Dat a cussomer or what? An’ I keep tellin ya, Bala, is’ Tantsy.” The latter remark is addressed towards the Indian person.
“Ov course, Tantsy. I suppose dat I just have a bad memory for names,” they reply with a faintly amused smile.
“Ya go’ da righ’,” Césarine or Tantsy replies to Bala before turning back to Amelie.
Amelie: Amelie stiffens just a bit when she hears the woman on the other side of the beads starting to stir. ‘Tantsy’ sounds a little ornery about things, but Amelie keeps her cool as the woman slides out from the back followed by even more cats. Maybe she’s the source of all the feline intruders. But at least Amelie learns what the woman prefers to be called.
GM: There’s a brief spark and flame from a cigarette lighter before she lifts what looks like a hand-rolled joint to her withered lips and takes a drag.
“Well g’wan, boy, cat got ya tongue?” The old woman gives a smoky, pot-smelling laugh as she bends down to scratch a black- and white-spotted feline behind its ears.
Amelie: Amelie produces the card for the woman. “Afternoon, Miss Tantsy. I was talking with a priest at the cathedral about something private, and someone put this on my back,” she explains. “Ça a mis un peu de froid dans ma colonne vertébrale.” (“It put a chill up my spine.”)
Her eyes flick up to see the woman’s reaction to her relaxed French. She hopes non-metro French dialects can speak more easily.
She leaves Tantsy think whatever she wants about her gender. The old woman seems to surround herself with androgynous people anyway.
GM: Tantsy squints at Amelie through her ‘60s glasses. “English, boy.” She takes the card and holds it up to the light in inspection, squinting the raisin-like flesh around her eyes still further. "Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, dere some ec’oplasm on dis, I tink, ligh’ isn’ too goo’… prolly a ghos’ put it on ya, maybe Pere Antoine."
Amelie: “I’d doubt Pere Antoine. Dead in 1829, I doubt he drinks coffee or knows what life insurance and slumber parties are. I’m more interested in what you might know about the LaLaurie house, and what whoever put this on me thinks is life-threatening.”
GM: Tantsy takes another drag of her joint, withdraws it, and waves around the lipstick-smeared article. “Naw, naw, I joshin’ ya dat it be da father. But we see lotta ghoss’ roun’ ere who we try an’ help, maybe onea em doin’ us a good turn, sen’in’ us some bi’ness.”
Amelie: Amelie cocks a brow at that statement. Either it’s a scam or Tantsy really believes what she’s talking about.
The young woman keeps an open mind as much as she can. After all, Quebec City’s Château Frontenac isn’t just one of the most photographed hotels in the world, but supposedly one of the most haunted as well.
GM: Tantsy motions to Amelie and ambles her way over to a rickety-looking table whose surface is covered with broken candelabras and half-melted wax candles, packs of tarot cards, dried scattered tea leaves, assorted rings and necklaces, and sticks of incense. Several cats are nestled among the table’s junk and adjacent chairs. Tantsy sits down on one without glancing at its feline occupant, which gives a startled meow and awkwardly bolts from its spot.
“G’wan, boy, siddown, siddown,” Tantsy gestures. “Wha ya say ya name was?”
Amelie: Amelie takes a seat at the table as well, but is a bit more careful. She picks up whatever cat is on the seat and places it onto her lap.
“Amelie. Amelie Savard, miss.”
GM: The orange-eared calico squirms as Amelie disturbs its rest, but settles down when she sets it back down.
“Well, I be Tantsy Rouselle, an’ ya gon’ call me missus or ma’am when ya talkin’ ta me, Mistuh Sartre, I’s old ’nuff ta ave earned it,” Tantsy remarks between another drag of her lipstick-smeared joint.
Bala approaches Amelie with a tray bearing two cups of herbal-smelling dark liquid. “Vould you care for tea?”
Amelie: “Apologies, Mrs. Rouselle. I didn’t mean to offend,” she corrects, petting the cat on her lap as she nods politely to Bala. “Yes, thank you.”
She turns back to the old woman and fixes her posture slightly. “Mrs. Rouselle, you said you help ghosts? May I ask you how?”
GM: The tea smells like mint. It tastes like stale sugar and a horse’s kick to Amelie’s mouth. It’s incredibly strong.
“Oh, well, dey always go’ dings dey wanna say ta deir loved ones. I lissens ta em, an’ I translates, an’ dey move on, but sometime dey stay, I guess dey jus’ like bein dead,” Tantsy remarks over a slow sip of her own tea. If it tastes anything like Amelie’s does, the old woman doesn’t look at all perturbed.
She lays her elbow on the table and extends her hand towards Amelie, palm up. “Gimme ya han’ now, Amanda, if ya please. Ya lef’ one,” she adds, “future slumba party, n all, we gon’ read ya lef’, dat da han’ dat show pohenshul, things y’ain done yet.”
Amelie: Amelie makes a small face when the tea hits her lips. It tastes like it’s gone bad. But it’s impolite to refuse and she sips it again as she listens to Tantsy. She wants to remark that ‘Amanda’ isn’t her name either, but she lets it go. She offers her left hand to the old woman while wondering how much of this she actually believes, and how much is simply showmanship to sell her store.
“Yes, Mrs. Rouselle.”
GM: The sugar is definitely stale, but the tea itself doesn’t taste bad. Just strong. It punches Amelie bloody in the mouth and kisses her passionately to make up. She can already hear her heart loudly thumping in her ears with the second drink.
“Oh no, wai’, wai’, we gon’ do it da Chinese way,” the woman says after a moment. “Gimme ya righ’, das’ da han’ ya be afta ya grows up.”
Amelie: Amelie hates the tea by now. She doesn’t say anything, but gladly takes an excuse to put the cup down when Tantsy changes her mind. She offers her left hand without complaint.
GM: The woman takes Amelie’s hand, holds it up to the light, and squints deeply through her ’60s glasses.
“Lesse, ya life line… oh, now das’ thick an’ clear, like da Miss’ippi if it wasn’ da Miss’ippi. Haw haw! Ya good a’ sports an’ roughin’ it… oh, dis line swoops too, da’ means ya fulla energy an’ vigor, is da’ righ’, you an active boy?”
Tantsy squints harder at Amelie’s hand, runs her finger down its center as if tracing a line, and then connects her finger to the middle space between Amelie’s ring and middle fingers. A frown creases her wrinkled face.
“No, na dere… les’ try f’ a few more years.”
She drawls a line to the bottom of Amelie’s thumb that’s parallel to the first line and another thumb-span lower. She then looks up at Amelie and offers a wrinkly smile.
“Okay, goo’ news, Amanda, ya gon live ta be ‘roun eigh’y years ol’. Very full life.”
Tantsy turns Amelie’s hand slightly, as if to to get a better view under the light. Her thin white eyebrows abruptly shoot up past the frames of her glasses.
“Whoa! Oh… no… I read da’ all wrong…”
Tantsy sets down Amelie’s hand, but doesn’t release it as she quietly says, “Amanda, I’m very sorry, but ya gon’ live ta be ‘roun twenty. Cou’ be off a few years… dese lines only measure in scores. Dat means twenties. Cou’ be ya… pass pretty soon… or before ya hit forty.” She looks down at Amelie’s palm again, then back up at her. “I’m real sorry… how old’s ya now?”
Ameloe: Amelie is less than impressed by Tantsy’s reading. The woman confuses her gender again and claims she’s physically active, but anyone could tell that from the thickness and muscle tension of her arm. Tantsy claims she’s going to have a full life, then suddenly takes it back when she ‘gets a better look.’ It’s not good news, but it’s probably a scare tactic. A ‘maybe you can change your fate with this trinket’ kind of scare tactic. Amelie just keeps a stony face through the entire reading.
“It’s Amelie. I’m twenty,” she states as she looks the woman across the table up and down. “Why the Chinese way? Would you get a different result other ways?”
GM: Tantsy’s lip twitches once when Amelie points out her actual name, as if to say ‘I knew that,’ but her expression remains solmen.
“Dere lotta diff’ren ways ta do it,” she says slowly. “Ya migh’ dink of it as usin’ inches or feet or meters da measure somethin’… ya get diffren’ numbers, da’ ya use for diff’ren dings, but dey measure da same space… I’m sorry, Amber, but usin’ anotha ruler won’ make ya life any longer or shorter. Cou’ migh’ tell us more abou’ why.”
Amelie: It sends a chill up Amelie’s spine when the woman’s expression remains solemn, but her face stays stoic as she nods along at Tantsy’s logic. Even if it’s for a ridiculous subject, at least it sounds like logic in the vacuum of it the store has been so far.
“I don’t think that would be wise. There’s more than a few legends about people who drove themselves to their deaths obsessing about the ‘how’ and ‘when.’”
Amelie clears her throat and takes a bracing breath before she takes another sip of the offered tea, forcing it down the best she can.
“Who knows, I may die by the hands of the LaLaurie House’s spirits. Though the reason I’m here is I’d prefer that doesn’t happen.”
GM: The tea tastes like another solid punch to Amelie’s mouth. The calico in her lap gives a wide yawn, briefly displaying its fangs. Tantsy seems to think on her statement for a moment. Lines tug across her wrinkled features.
“Prefer na happen… mmm… well, les’ look at it dis way, Amber.”
Her equally lined green-nailed hands trace Amelie’s for a moment, before she cups the younger woman’s hand in hers and holds it up to the candlelight.
“Look a’ ya skin dere, boy.”
Tantsy releases one of her hands from Amelie’s and paws through the table’s cluttered junk. The cats remain indifferent until Tantsy feels at some object underneath a large-eared tabby. “G’wan, git,” she declares as she pushes her hand beneath the sedentary feline’s belly, then abruptly lifts it up. The cat jostles up and gives her an almost undignified look before haughtily pawing its way across the table.
There’s a bright flash, meanwhile, as candlelight reflects off the cold steel of the dagger now in Tantsy’s grasp. Not a knife. A dagger.
It’s made of brass with a solid ivory handle that’s secured to the hilt by a tarnished-looking copper ring. The life-long weaponsmith identifies the secespita on sight. It was used by the priests of ancient Rome and their wives in sacrifices, she recalls. The blade would have been iron rather than true steel—and the one before her actually looks like iron too. It doesn’t look very well-cared for, Amelie assesses critically. It’s rusted. Chipped. Dull. Not something she’d want to rely on in a fight. But it can still cut.
Tantsy absently waves the sacrificial blade through the air as she continues to talk, still clutching Amelie’s hand, “Now den, Amber, wha’ happen if I gives ya han’ a goo’ nick wi’ dis ol’ thang?”
Amelie: Amelie jumps as she sees the blade but doesn’t pull her hand away. It’s strange to see a black woman using a dagger of that origin. She has to wonder how old it is.
“Secespita, Roman, ivory handle looks firm still, the blade is a mess but it’s still likely iron. You can rub the rust off if you put it to soak in a zip-lock of lemon juice for an hour,” she says, more to ease her own nerves than inform the woman holding it.
But the prospect of that old blade cutting her hand is only concerning from the standpoint of how cleanly it can cut. Jagged cuts scar. Still, curiosity keeps hold.
“Likely if you cut me with that blade, you’re making a sacrifice to something or someone, right?”
GM: The old woman slams Amelie’s hand onto the table and stabs the dagger straight into her palm.
Amelie: Alarm bells sound in Amelie’s head a second too late. The reaction is instant. Amelie’s eyes go wide as she grabs the old woman’s wrist with her left hand, frighteningly tight. The chair skitters out from under her as she all but leaps upright, sending the cat flying. She plants a foot on the table and looks ready to murder the old hag right there with her own dagger. Her next words are nearly spat.
“Let go. Now.”
GM: The calico on Amelie’s lap yowls as her abrupt rise sends it tumbling off. She doesn’t see whether it lands on its feet. The chair hits the floor with a crack, followed a split-second later by another one from the old woman’s wrist (with an accompanied pained hiss) as Amelie pins it beneath her foot. The pair’s violent motions send assorted junk crashing off the table as cats hiss, flatten their ears, and bush their tails.
“Tantsy? Vhat vas dat?” calls Bala’s voice.
Tantsy does not answer it. She futilely strains against Amelie’s hold for a moment, her thick eyebrows bushing together past her ’60s glasses, then throws back her head and laughs.
“Haw-haw! Haw-haw! Haw-haw! Silly boy. Ya bleed. Das’ wha’ happen when I cut ya! ‘Makin’ a sacrifice’, das’ jus’ dressin’ up wha’ I’s arready done.”
Blood continues to painfully well from the dagger embedded in Amelie’s palm, red and thick against the chandelier-light. The old woman’s overlarge eyes remain riveted on that bleeding font as she cackles,
“Haw-haw! Haw-haw! Haw-haw!!!”
Amelie: The pain in Amelie’s hand is getting to be too much for her to think of anything else but ‘get it out.’ Her face still hardens. Not into a grimace, but a slack expression that shows the old woman nothing but cold stone as she laughs and haws. Stabbing the woman back in her own hand crosses Amelie’s mind more than a little, but it’s been a long day. Too long. Still, there’s a strangely calm and oddly warm sensation in her gut at the situation.
She reaches down with both hands to pry the old woman’s fingers off the dagger. Her foot moves just enough to press her attacker’s hand and not wrist under its newly-purchased sole as she curls her own hand around the secespita and pulls.
The dagger’s slightest movement finally breaks the shock that was keeping her from screaming. Her stone-like expression crumbles as she grits her teeth and her eyes start to well. It feels like someone is pulling her nerves out of her skin with dental floss and playing them as a morbid instrument.
“Ba—Bay—Bala! Get the fuck in here!!!” she yells in a raw and pained voice as backs away from the table, ready to kick the old crone if she gets too close.
“You stabbed me right through the hand, you senile cunt! This rusted hunk of shit will rip out my fucking tendons, and you just STABBED me with it!? What were you planning for afterwards?! The Romans made an incision above the elbow pit to blood-let, you didn’t even use the right cunt-forsaken knife!!!”
“Ta mère est une prostituée qui suce les animaux de la ferme. Ton père est baisé dans le cul par des marins pour gagner sa vie. Vos frères et sœurs vous ont baisé comme un bébé pour lubrifier votre trou du cul pour quand il rentrait à la maison!”
(“Your mother is a whore who sucks off farm animals. Your father is fucked in the ass by sailors for a living. Your siblings fucked you as an infant to lube your asshole for when he got home!”)
GM: Tantsy cackles dementedly. Flecks of spittle fly from the rim of her brightly lipsticked mouth. “Haw-haw! Haw-haw! Haw-haw-haw!!! Ya din’ ‘spec’ me ta stab ya, now di’ ya? I’s a harmless ol’ lady, isn’ I? Now wha’ on earth make ya dink a housea ghosts gon’ be any safer, ya silly boy?”
Amelie makes out footsteps sounding from deeper within the shop. They’re followed by an abrupt crash.
“Hell, I even ask ya, ‘wha’ happens if I stab ya!’ Haw-haw! Haw-haw!” the old woman laughs on. “Ya go’ ya head in da clouds! Say ya stab my han’ ta get even, Amber, den stick it in shi’, jus’ f’ lagniappe, an’ don’ lemme wash it. What happens den?”
Amelie: “WHO has their heads in the clouds!? And what happens when the police come asking why you STABBED me in the fucking hand just to give me some bullshit about festering wounds!?” Amelie barks. She strides into the other room to look for the assistant, following the crashing sounds.
GM: Several more “haw-haws!” follow Amelie past the bead curtain. The room on the other side is cluttered with an equally haphazard collection of junk and occult bric-a-bric. One of the bookshelves is tipped over. Just behind it, past the scattered books and mewing cats, Amelie can make out a motionless human arm. Several cats listlessly circle around it.
Amelie: Amelie groans, holds her wounded hand palm up, and carefully balances the embedded knife as she grips the bookcase with good hand. She uses it and her leg to slowly pull the heavy furniture off of the East Indian cashier. It’s a difficult job with just one hand, but she rights the bookcase completely straight and holds it there in case it tries to tip again.
“Hey! Hey, are you okay!? Don’t make me witness my first death by literature! Get up!”
GM: Blood continues to leak from the dagger embedded in Amelie’s palm. Each grunt, push, and jostle with her good hand feels like someone is twisting a hot brand against her bad one. Several books tumble from the shelves as she hoists the case back up. Bala lies underneath it and does not stir or respond.
Amelie: Dyke they call her. Dyke dyke dyke like unimaginative parrots. But a working woman knows what that kind of pain is like. She shrinks her arm against her chest as she kneels and tosses books aside to get a clearer view of Bala’s face.
“BALA! Wake the FUCK up!” she yells.
GM: More cats mew and scatter at the tossed books. Bala’s face looks uninjured, so far as Amelie can tell, but neither do they respond to her entreaties.
Then, there’s a sudden jolt of pain in Amelie’s throbbing wrist. The young woman is yanked up and all but slammed against the wall. Her vision starts to swim.
“Fool boy!” Tantsy bellows. Her once-sleepy eyes are bulding and livid even behind her glasses. “Look what ya gone an’ done!”
Amelie: Amelie was about to reach for her phone until a new gut-wrenching surge of pain makes her eyes cross. It’s only when she feels the wall slam against her back that a familiar feeling strikes again. That rising wave of fury behind her eyelids pushes at her to feed this old woman her own teeth.
“YOU did this, you old bag! Who isn’t going to scream out when you STAB them!!! Stop hawwing like a donkey lunatic and call a fucking ambulance!”
GM: “I’ll tell ya what happen, I stick ya han’ in shi’!” Tantsy screams. Spittle flies in Amelie’s face from gnashing yellow teeth.
“It FESTER! Why, I stick ya han’ in dere long ‘nough—doctors gon’ chop it OFF!”
The old woman seizes Amelie’s injured, bleeding hand and dashes it against the wall. The sudden impact jostles the embedded dagger agonizingly free. Blood messily spurts over both women’s clothes.
“Maybe dey DON’ chop it off! Maybe dey leave it on ta FUCK YA, an’ it FESTER!” Tantsy screams and raves as Amelie’s blood drips down her face. “Turn green an’ smell an’ make ya DIE! Unnatural! Unnatural! Dere ain’ NO PLACE in nature ya cut ya han’ an’ keep it STUCK IN SHI’!”
Amelie: Amelie gets it again. That cold feeling.
Her good hand snatches out to catch the dagger’s familiar handle as it drops. She grunts, struggles against her attacker’s hold, and tries to get some proper footing as she starts to take this conflict seriously. If the old crone wants a knife fight, she’ll get one.
GM: There’s another jolt of pain as Tantsy smashes Amelie’s so-tender hand against the wall, once, twice, three times. The dagger’s hilt strikes the toe of her sneaker as the blade clatters against the floor. Sweat beads the old woman’s brow and trickles down the spattered blood already there as she screams into Amelie’s face,
“DA WORLD! World be YA SKIN! Lined! Ugly! OKAY! Even da par’s da’ CUT! Scar over, heal up goo’!”
Amelie: Amelie’s gut turns as the knife hits her shoe. Her cold resolve to stab an old lady shatters into another held-in scream of pain as her already hurt hand gets abused again. She needs t-
GM: “Das’ natural! NATURAL!” The old woman cackles dementedly. Lipstick-hued spittle leaks from the corners of her animated mouth. “Haw-haw! Natural! Haw-haw! HAW-HAW! HAW-HAW!”
“Dere par’s!” she exclaims, shoving her face into Amelie’s, so close their noses brush. The bleeding youth can feel Tantsy’s pendulous, wrinkled breasts pressing against hers. “Par’s da been STABBED! Dat been hel’ in SHIT! Turned green! Fes’ered! DIED! Doctors can’ chop ‘em off! OFF! Oh no! Oh no! NO! Dey infected! DEY do da choppin’! Chop up da people da’ go in! CHOP! CHOP! CHOP!”
Tantsy’s voice drops to a whisper. Almost intimate. Amelie feels the old woman’s rancid, pot-laced breath against her face with every word.
“Da’ house is black juju, boy. It blacker dan da brew of a nigger witch layin’ wit da devil on da year’s longes’, blackes’ nigh’.”
Tantsy suddenly chokes, convulses, and tosses back her head as she lets out a half-strangled shriek that sends cats scattering as she tosses back her head. Her glasses fly off.
The face that whips back towards Amelie looks like a stranger’s. The eyes are huge, bulging, and bloodshot. The veins throb and look about to rupture as the woman screams, bloody sweat running down her lined face and spittle-flecked lips,
“Si vous appréciez votre vie, Amélie Savard—N’ALLEZ PAS DANS CETTE MAISON!”
(“If you value your life, Amelie Savard—DO NOT GO INTO THAT HOUSE!”)
Then, motion. Pained throbbing from her hand. Rough hands at her back. Her feet barely feel like they’re touching the ground as cats hiss and yowl—and the store’s front door rushes to meet Amelie’s face.
Amelie: Amelie watches what can only be one of two things. Some awful parlor trick, or an actual ghost screaming in her face.
She clenches her hand as she curses and hisses in pain. A tear rolls down her cheek as the crone manhandles her. The blood loss is already making her worried. What if she can’t work with her hand anymore? What if she loses it?
She gets the point. She got the point back after the comment about shit on the knife. She isn’t an idiot.
And Tantsy still punctuated it with this gratuitous attack, this bullshit cruelty. She struggles for a moment to find her voice.
“I just came… to ask questions! I didn’t disrespect you or spit in your face, and you did this! People—ow, fuck! People have been in and out of the LaLaurie House for years without dying! It was a bar and restaurant at points, for fuck’s sake! There has to be some safe way to just look inside for a few hours!”
GM: A thunderously slammed door is the only response Amelie receives as she’s all but hurled out of the shop.
CLOSED, reads the sign by the window.
Amelie: Amelie almost steps back towards the shop when she feels a cold prick at the base of her spine. Her hand hurts more and more, and the adrenaline from the fight is already wearing off.
She lets out a low hiss as she fishes her phone out of her pocket with her right hand, clamps her left hand in her elbow pit, and calls her aunt as she puts pressure on the hand. She squats a block away from the store and holds back tears while the phone rings and she bleeds onto the pavement.
GM: “Hello, Amelie? Is everything all right?” her aunt asks in a mildly surprised tone. This is the first time they’ve actually spoken over the phone instead of texting, at least in the States.
Amelie: Amelie can barely speak. Her teeth grit as she watches the dripping blood ruin her pant leg. “No. I-” she pauses to hiss in effort and takes a breath. Short sentences are all she can manage. “I was stabbed. I’m bleeding a lot. My hand.”
GM: There’s a pause, but it’s not for overly long before her aunt replies, “Press your hand with something to apply pressure and slow bleeding. We need to get you to an emergency room. If you need immediate treatment, you can call 911, but ambulance response times are shit in this city. How badly are you bleeding?”
Amelie: Amelie has cut herself more than once, but never worse than a belt sander snapping and cutting into her bicep. The mess makes it hard to tell. It’s a jagged wound, but not ugly enough to make her think she’s going to die.
“6/10. Won’t kill me. Rusty knife though. Jagged. Already putting pressure,” she wheezes, flexing her arm tighter to keep up that pressure. She manages to squeak out the address as well.
GM: “Good thinking. Keep that up,” her aunt says firmly. Amelie hears some indistinct noises in the background as Christina raises her voice. “Can you hail a Ryde and meet me at the Tulane Medical Center ER, or do you want me to pick you up? That second option may take longer.”
Amelie: Amelie shakes her head and lets out another little hiss. “Ryde uses—fuck… me. Personal cars. Might get turned down… for bleeding,” she stammers out, slowly standing up. “Should I risk it? Or get on… main road for you?”
GM: “Personal cars. That’s a good point. Okay, sit down and stay where you are. I will be there as soon as I can. All right?”
Amelie: Amelie slowly moves her feet, feeling more than a little woozy as she does. “I walked. I’m by… wait, it’s-” there’s a small pause as her aunt hears a defeated chuckle on the other end of the line.
“Cafe Amelie. I’m at Cafe Amelie.”
The young woman slumps against the wall and slides down it. She sits and bleeds over the sidewalk like the ending shot from a shitty film noir.
GM: “You’re at Cafe Amelie.” Her aunt’s voice finally breaks at those words, and sounds halfway between a sniffle and smile. “All… right. Keep up that level head.” Her next words tighten. “If you see any police, stand up and fiddle on your phone so you look at least somewhat affluent. I’m getting in my car now, so I have to hang up. I’ll see you soon. Okay?”
Amelie: Amelie nods, then remembers her aunt can’t hear that over the phone. “Yeah. Soon.”
She does as she’s asked and maintains the pressure on her hand while she sits and waits. She already doesn’t trust the police and hopes they avoid her.
GM: Cafe Amelie looks like a nice enough place to have lunch. Patrons eat and converse in an open-air, greenery-filled courtyard. The building itself resembles the shop from which Amelie was only just expelled, with a Spanish-style wrought-iron gallery overflowing with plants. A bubbling fountain sounds from just outside.
Few patrons can likely make out Amelie from behind the courtyard’s brick wall while she’s sitting. Her bloody appearances draws more than a few stares and remarks from others passersby, ranging from “the hell happened to you?” to “someone should call the cops.” In contrast to her native Quebec, random strangers appear amply willing to express their opinions aloud or strike up conversations on the street.
Amelie: Nosy cunts is about all the brainpower Amelie spares to think about the people who pass by. None of them actually stop to offer help, so fuck ’em.
She waves at the bystanders who linger with her good hand, cites “The Fences got me,” and then waves them off. She seals the ‘nothing to see here’ impression with a friendly smile.
GM: Amelie endures perhaps ten or fifteen minutes of waiting before she spots Christina among the passersby, dressed in a navy skirtsuit and blazer. Her aunt makes a beeline when she sees her, gets down to her knees, and strips off the blazer to wrap around Amelie’s injured arm. If her eyes widen at the sight, it’s only for a moment before her jaw hardens.
Amelie: Amelie pulls away and gives an almost awkwardly pained hiss as her aunt starts to strip off what has to be an expensive piece of clothing. “No no no, not the blazer,” she whines.
GM: Christina does not appear to be overly concerned for the blazer as she wraps one of the sleeves taut around Amelie’s still-bleeding hand as an impromptu bandage.
“How badly does it hurt?” she asks.
Amelie: Amelie feels a deep pang in her chest when her aunt ruins the blazer to get a bandage on her hand. “More than a hangnail, less than a stubbed toe. Starting to—nnfuck. Feelin’ pretty damn dizzy. Let my outfit soak it up, let’s get going.”
GM: Amelie’s aunt helps her up and shepherds her into the passenger seat of a silver-gray Subaru Legacy car. Cafe Amelie’s brick walls recede past in the window.
Amelie: Amelie stumbles up into the car with her aunt’s help and then just rests her. Her outfit is a mess. There’s flecks of red on her face and her covered hand is soaked in fresh and dried blood alike. But she’s alive.
GM: “It looks like the worst is over,” Christina remarks, sparing another glance for Amelie’s hand. “All we need to do now is get you checked into the ER. Good job staying calm and good thinking calling me.”
Amelie: “Hopefully my hand makes a full recovery. And thank you. I’ve been hurt a lot, it’s rote at this point.” There’s a small pause before she speaks again. “I’m sorry for interrupting your job.”
GM: “Don’t worry about the job. But we’ll take it as a good sign that you’re feeling clear-headed enough to be worried.” Her aunt stares back towards the road as streets roll past. “Now, how did you get stabbed?”
Amelie: Amelie can’t help but dread the answer. “I went to the cathedral to ask about ghosts, was refuted on their existence by the Catholic Church, and had a card for an occult shop slipped into my belongings. I went, told her about the LaLaurie House, she read my palm, and then stabbed my hand with a dagger screaming about it being a festering wound on the world and how I’ll die if I step foot into it.”
GM: Christina doesn’t stop to blink at the half-coherent explanation while she’s driving, but there’s at least one blink in the sound of her voice. “I’m sorry, Amelie?”
Amelie: “Yeah. She was… insane, and old. Which is why I didn’t call the cops. Also because of… another incident I had today.”
GM: “All right, if the staff at Tulane asks any questions, keep the story simple and tell them you were stabbed by a mentally ill person. Don’t talk about any of those… other details.”
Amelie: “That was the plan. Last thing I need is the mental health ward right now.” Amelie hisses a bit as she adjusts her seating.
GM: “You probably won’t be looking at the mental health ward. But hospitals in Louisiana are required to report gunshot wounds to the police, and a stab wound like this could also draw questions. So keep your explanation simple and plausible. Did this person also want money from you? Were you in a bad part of town?”
Amelie: “No, and maybe. I was just off Jackson Square, and she was reading palms. I thought I’d give it a try, like a dumb tourist, and she produced a knife and stabbed my hand. How’s that?”
GM: Her aunt frowns deeply, but then simply says, “All right, there are some sketchy people there. A mentally ill person offered to read your palm, got upset over something you said, and stabbed you. You managed to get away and call me. Can you remember that?”
Amelie: “Like a modern major general,” is all she can muster, eyes closed as she rests her head. “I’m sorry for the trouble.”
GM: “I’m sorrier that you were stabbed by a lunatic.”
Amelie: “Could have been worse. Could have been extorted by a police officer working with a pickpocket.” Amelie lifts her head, eyes not open, but brows raised. “Oh wait.”
GM: Her aunt’s frown deepens. “Did this cop also hurt you? Did you say anything to him?”
Amelie: “Threatened me a lot. Scared me a bit. I was nothing but respectful. He had my ID, and I managed to convince him I was poor and just got a scholarship to a private school. He took 100 bucks. Case closed.”
GM: Christina slowly takes that in before responding, “All right, he only took some money. That’s good. I should have talked to you about this earlier, but you shouldn’t ever speak to the police around here, not if you can avoid it. They’re thugs with badges. The whole department is completely corrupt.”
Amelie: “Yeah, I get that now… I should start carrying a self-defense weapon or something.”
GM: “You don’t ever want to attack the police, Amelie,” her aunt quickly replies. “If a cop talks to you, ask if you’re being detained or under arrest. If they say yes, tell them you want a lawyer. No matter what they say to you, be a broken record and don’t respond with anything except those five words. ‘I want a lawyer.’ Got that?”
Amelie: Amelie actually lets out a little chuckle. “No, no, I don’t mean—I’m not going to stab a cop. I mean so I can defend myself better without calling them.” The jostle makes her grimace a little, but her expression settles back after a moment. “I want a lawyer.”
GM: “That’s right,” Christina answers approvingly, but the look passes as quickly as the onrushing traffic. “And you’re right that we can’t let this happen again.” Her hands clench around the wheel. “You said you met that lunatic from ‘a card?’”
The old Spanish- and French-style buildings with those floral-lined galleries that are so distinctive to New Orleans have receded by now. Brutal glass and steel monoliths, the same unfirmly gray skyscrapers one can find in any city, jut above the traffic in their place. Tulane Medical Center is an interconnected series of brown-bricked, box-like buildings with a skywalk that passes just over the street. The hospital’s name is printed on its side in blocky white letters.
Amelie: Amelie explains the situation as they drive. The card, its written message, the store, the stabbing. Everything but the old woman’s sudden French and that wailing scream from beyond the grave. She grimaces slightly as they roll up to the hospital and mentally readies herself for a six-hour wait.
GM: Christina listens intently and tells Amelie to text her if she finds herself in a suspicious situation like that again—which finding cards with strange messages on her person certainly falls under. The people behind it could have wanted to rob her, rape her, murder her, or who knows what.
“New Orleans is not a safe city,” her aunt declares emphatically. “If you’re ever unsure about a person or situation, text me. Or call me. If you want to snort cocaine, hire a gigolo, get an abortion, or whatever else, I won’t stop or judge you. I will only tell you how safe I believe it is. Beyond that, how much you want me involved in your life is your choice. I would much rather you feel able to come to me for help than feel it necessary to hide things.”
Christina’s gaze seems to notably linger on Amelie at the story’s ‘abbreviated’ ending, but her aunt says nothing further as she parks their car in a disabled persons spot.
Amelie: Amelie feels more than a little guilty at that statement. ‘Necessary to hide things.’ She makes a face like she’s got a sudden lurch in her stomach and shakes her head, unable to keep up the lie.
“You’re going to think I’m insane,” she starts. “When she had me up against that wall, and the knife popped out…? I don’t know what kind of trick she used. Her eyes bugged out and went white, and she screamed in my face in French, not to go into that house. It scared me. Especially after being hurt, and all the ghost talk beforehand.”
GM: “That’s probably exactly what she was trying to do,” Christina remarks as she helps Amelie out and shuts the car door. Her heels click against the pavement as she takes Amelie’s bleeding arm in hers and applies further pressure as they briskly stride towards the sliding ER doors.
“There are a lot of psychics, fortune-tellers, and what have you around the Quarter who are very good at showmanship. There are a lot of tourists, too, who come to New Orleans expecting to see strange things—and Orleanians who believe in strange things. They all get fleeced for everything they’re worth.”
Amelie: Amelie feels silly and nods along with her aunt as she tries to keep her legs moving forward. Her body feels sluggish, but she’s glad she can at least keep step.
“I didn’t want you to think I was crazy or traumatized or something stupid, or that I bought it hook line and sinker. I’m not a good liar and I shouldn’t have tried.”
GM: Christina pulls Amelie aside to avoid several EMTs wheeling in a comatose, blood-spattered dark-skinned man on a stretcher and respirator.
“…how do you starve a black guy? Put their food stamp under their work boots,” one of the black-uniformed personnel quips.
“That’s not nice,” his homely-looking partner says back.
“Don’t you still live with your mom, Abby?”
Amelie: Amelie lets out a small sigh through her nose as she glances down at the man being wheeled in. It seems like black people are the race that gets pressed underfoot here instead of Native Americans.
She groans a bit and stands up straighter as the pressure starts to make her hand sore.
“I wasn’t going to give that crazy bitch any money, anyway. I was going to get a few words for the paper and leave.”
GM: “I don’t think you would have given her money, and I don’t think you were crazy. I think someone took advantage of what you were hoping to see, then badly scared you after she stabbed your hand,” Christina replies as she helps Amelie past the threshold of the sliding ER doors. The inside waiting room is jam-packed with people in various states of discomfort but almost universal discontent. Some looked pained. Some look bored. More than a few appear to suffer from a peculiarly malaisful combination of both.
An overworked-looking triage nurse with bags under her eyes asks the pair the reason for their visit and quizzes Amelie about her medical history and any over-the-counter or prescription medications she is currently taking, along with any allergies she might have. The nurse then measures Amelie’s temperature, blood pressure, and other vital signs.
Amelie: Amelie doesn’t exactly like the tests. She grits her teeth and lets out some less-than-ladylike noises and mutterings about her hand. Nurses are worth her holding her tongue around, though, and every second word is a “sorry” or “thank you” until she’s told to go sit down and wait.
GM: The nurse barely seems to register Amelie’s thanks or apologies. Her heavy eyes have already moved past the pair as she concludes, “Not urgent. Go take a seat in the waiting-”
“She’s an artist with a probable tendon injury,” Christina interrupts sharply. “I am an attorney and prepared to file suit against Tulane Medical Center if your malpractice costs her-”
“Urgent but not life-threatening,” the nurse interrupts back with a look that’s half-glare, half-placation, and wholly resentful. Her brow then furrows at Amelie. “Where did you get this?”
Amelie: Her aunt’s reaction is something of a surprise, but the nurse’s question makes Amelie look back towards her. “Off Jackson Square. I got my… my palm read by some lady. I was being a stupid tourist. She was crazy. She grabbed my hand and stabbed it with an old weird knife.”
The realization starts to gnaw at her again after her aunt’s words. She can feel a dull panic slowly building in her chest as she wonders if she’ll be able to use both hands at the forge again. Her voice falters as she awkwardly presses the wound and asks, “Is my hand going to be normal after this..?”
GM: “Other patients are waiting,” the nurse replies tersely while making a shooing motion.
Amelie: Amelie carefully pulls her aunt’s blazer off her hand and shows the nurse the open wound. She’s starting to sound a bit scared. “Ma’am, the blade was rusty and filthy… please, can you just take a quick look and tell me if you can save it?”
GM: “Get out before I call security,” the nurse replies in an even terser voice.
Amelie: Amelie frowns and nods, slowly standing up and re-wrapping, turning to follow her aunt to the waiting room.
GM: Christina directs an exceedingly stony look at the nurse, but does not press the matter any further as she leads Amelie back into the waiting room.
“You may not have a serious tendon injury. I only said that to get you faster care,” she explains once they’re out of earshot.
Amelie: Amelie doesn’t quite buy it. She looks for a place to sit down and nurse her hand on her lap. “A rusty blade is more dangerous than a clean one in the long term. At this point, I’m just holding my breath.”
The young woman takes a deep breath to steady herself despite her doomsaying. “If I lose the ability to use this hand properly… I’ll find a way around it for my work. It’ll be okay.”
GM: “Let’s worry for now about getting that hand treated properly,” her aunt replies as she leads Amelie up to the registration desk. The glasses-wearing woman on the other side barely glances up from her computer screen as she robotically asks for Amelie’s name, gender, date of birth, mailing address, name of primary care doctor, the medical reason for her visit, and how she got her stab wound. They get through ‘date of birth’ before Christina interrupts the receptionist to tell Amelie, “You go find somewhere to sit down. I’ll take care of the rest of this.”
Amelie: Amelie is surprised again by her aunt’s sudden cut-in. She nods thankfully, though, as she cradles her arm and looks around for a chair to slump down in. The blood loss has officially given her a headache. She watches her aunt through squinted lids in case she’s motioned back up.
GM: The ER is absolutely packed. Finding an open seat takes Amelie some time, and takes her past a melange of waiting patients. A young woman groans and massages a deeply reddened ankle while a closely-aged man next to her mouths assurances. A dreadlocked man with an incredibly ripe stench groans loudly about how much pain he’s in. Someone nearby snaps that he isn’t sick and is wasting everyone’s time. In another seat, a crying middle-aged woman rocks back and forth with a droopy-eyed child she hugs to her breast. Even the spaces between seats are occupied. Amelie observes a bearded old man walking up and down the aisle with a bible and rosary, steadily chanting, “Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for You are the one I praise…”
“How fucking long are you gonna go on with that?!” screeches a black-eyed woman from a nearby chair.
The old man only continues to walk down the aisle and chant, “Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for You are the one I praise…”
“Mom, I’m really thirsty…” groans another voice.
“I’m sorry, honey, but you heard them say to limit your fluid intake until the doctors get a look.”
Amelie: Amelie eventually just stands in place and leaves the seats to more sickly and injured people as she watches the chaos unfold. She feels bad how her aunt strong-armed the hospital. She wishes she could fix the child and the dreadlocked man in the same way she could weld bad pieces of steel back together.
One of the last voices makes her ear prick up, though. She’s heard this girl at McGehee. She decides to approach after a moment of consideration perhaps addled by blood loss, and offers the teenager a small gimped wave with her good hand.
“Excuse me. You’re Hannah, right?”
GM: The girl in question looks a few years younger than Amelie, like most students at McGehee do. She has a wide face, firm nose, prominent eyebrows, and mid-back-length brown hair that’s streaked through with blonde towards the ends. She’s dressed in a long-sleeved gray tee and pair of blue jeans instead of the standard McGehee uniform.
Her eyes are half-lidded and look exhausted as she leans against the shoulder of a 40- or 50-something woman with shoulder-length dirty blonde hair and a narrower face and nose. The older woman is dressed in a low-necked black shirt, tan slacks, and looks in a great deal less discomfort. Physically, at least.
She frowns at Amelie’s address. “I’m sorry, do we know you from somewhere?”
Amelie: Amelie gives Hannah a sorry smile before looking towards the mother addressing her. “Yes, sorry. I’m Amelie Savard, a senior at our school. We haven’t really met before, but I have Mrs. Flores’ ballroom dance class with Hannah.”
GM: “Ah. I’m sorry, this isn’t a good time.” The woman shakes her head as if to clear it, then extends a hand. “Monica Burroughs. You probably guessed I’m Hannah’s mom.”
Amelie: Amelie respectfully declines the handshake as she holds up her good hand to show how it’s also coated in blood.
“It’s very nice to meet you, I’m sorry about the hand,” she says before looking back towards Hannah. Her classmate is in a really really bad way it seems. Maybe something with her stomach, from what she said earlier?
GM: “Oh, don’t be. It’s-”
Monica is interrupted, though, as Hannah gives Amelie a bleary look. “You’re the… girl who Mrs. Flores had stay after class.”
Amelie: “Yeah, that’s me. She wanted me to practice following, since I lead all class.” Amelie keeps her voice a bit softer as she speaks to Hannah. She tries to keep her head in one piece if she has a headache too. “You look so sick. I hope it’s not too painful.”
GM: Hannah gives Amelie another half-focused look.
“It’s dehydration,” her mom says. “Killer in this weather.”
Amelie: Amelie nods and remembers her aunt’s talks about how hot and humid the city’s subtropical climate is. The humidity has yet to slow her down, but the heat and sun definitely have. She gives Hannah a worried look all the same.
“Absolutely. I’m not even from the States,” she admits, “so I’ve had the whole scary talk about dehydration.”
GM: “Say, do you want my seat? You’re not about to bleed out, are you?” Monica asks.
Amelie: Amelie shakes her head at the offer. “You stay, ma’am, I’m just fine standing. Hannah looks like she could use her mom anyway.”
She shifts on a leg, turns, and looks to see how her aunt is doing at the reception area. She hopes she doesn’t have a book of city bylaws open in front of the poor desk lady.
GM: Amelie can make out her aunt offering what looks like an insurance card. The desk lady looks far from poor, however, as Christina covertly slides over a number of green bills.
“All right, if you’re sure,” Monica answers. “You looking for someone?” she asks as she sees Amelie look towards the desk.
Hannah gives a soft moan and shifts against her mom’s shoulder.
Amelie: Amelie frowns slightly. It looks as if she’s about to get called on, but she’s not sure how fair that is to the other people in the waiting room.
“Just looking to see how my aunt is. I should leave you be, though. Hannah looks like she’d appreciate a bit of quiet.”
GM: Monica glances at her daughter. “Yes, thanks. One thing, I’m sorry if this seems forward of me. But are you…?” she makes a motion towards Amelie’s hair.
Amelie: Amelie doesn’t’ skip a beat. “Gay?”
GM: “Yes, gay,” the teenager’s mother nods.
Hannah’s eyes crack back open as she gives a muffled yell of, “Mom!”
Amelie: Amelie manages a weak chuckle at Hannah’s reaction. “Everyone assumes, I’m not offended. I cut my hair this short because I grew up around metalworking. Eventually you get tired of your hair catching on fire,” she says without exactly answering the question.
GM: “Oh, really? That does make a lot of sense,” Monica says. “I’m sorry to put you on the spot like that, it was just after this recent fuss over a queer alliance club at McGehee, and…”
“I’m in the ER and you’re still embarrassing me?” Hannah croaks.
Amelie: Amelie smiles and looks at Hannah. She tries to put on a calm and understanding face. “Hannah, you were the one who tried to start it, right?”
GM: Hannah gives an unfocused frown that seems equally split between Amelie, her mother, and the universe at large. “No, that was Leslie…”
“She’s a friend of Hannah’s,” her mom fills in. “I just thought you might have been a friend of hers, given… well, the hair.”
Hannah groans. “Mom, it’s just… a haircut…”
Amelie: “If it wasn’t the haircut, it would be the size of my arms, or all my scars, or my height, or just my attitude. I keep my actual preferences quiet, but I’m getting used to the assumption. People here are more vocal than I’m used to.”
GM: “Are you from France? They’re definitely a lot more reserved in Europe,” Monica agrees. “You know, there are some other girls from France going to McGehee,” she remarks thoughtfully. “I don’t know if you’ve met? You’re new, I know that, practically all the families with kids at the school know each other. They’re the Devillers, anyway, and a very nice family. Which is a good thing, since you would not believe how many of them there are. How many girls do they have, Hannah, eight?”
“‘I don’t believe in birth control’ many,” Hannah mumbles.
Her mom laughs.
Amelie: Amelie lets out a snicker at Hannah’s comment. It hurts more than a little, but she steadies herself with a few breaths. “Oooh, my. No, ma’am, I’m from Canada. Quebec, to be specific. But I do know the Devillers, yes. I’m partnered with one for my New Orleans history class, actually!”
GM: “Quebec, how silly of me. And oh really? Hannah’s taking that for fifth period with Ms. Perry. She’s very friendly and does a good job keeping the class interesting, from what Hannah tells me. They’re doing this project right now for ghost stories—she says there was a vote between that and historic buildings-”
“Which as many people vote for as Jill Stein,” Hannah mumbles.
“-yes, it sounds like that option wins every time, Ms. Perry could maybe make them more competitive,” Monica remarks.
Amelie: Amelie slowly nods and sighs as she looks down at her hand. “I was out doing research for that project today, actually. That’s what I was doing when this happened. New Orleans is a scary place when you aren’t careful.”
GM: “Oh, you poor thing, I’m so sorry to hear that! Hopefully it doesn’t turn you off to the city, people here can be very welcoming. You just have to know what parts of town to avoid. It’s tricky because the bad areas run right up next to the safe ones.”
Amelie: “It’s not enough to turn me off to the city. It was me being a dumb tourist is all. I’ll be more careful from now on. I still have research to do, after all.”
GM: “That’s good to hear. So what’s it you’re doing for your project? There’s really so many ghosts to pick from…”
Hannah gives another moan. Monica pulls out her phone at glances at the screen. “Okay, good news, it’s been five minutes. Now remember, just a little sip…” she says as she extends a water bottle toward her daughter.
Hannah weakly grasps at it and takes a glug before her mom gently but firmly pulls it back away. She groans again, “I’m thirsty…”
“I know, Hannah, but you remember what the last times were like?” Her brow furrows. “You can’t keep doi…”
Hannah cuts her off with a particularly loud sigh, re-closes her eyes, and leans back her head.
“Five minutes, honey, I’ve got the timer on,” Monica says. She taps the phone several times and tucks it back away. “Until then or whenever the doctor sees us…”
“Yeah, by the time Strong reforms the queer club so she can ask Amelie out…” Hannah croaks.
Monica gives Amelie a ‘you know how it is’ smile. “I’m sorry about that. Blame the heat.”
Amelie: Amelie is about to answer Hannah’s mom’s question before she gets another sip of liquid to help pull her body back from the state it’s in. The exchange afterwards, including the jab, makes Amelie smile. Hannah is a little catty. It makes talking with her kinda fun.
“Don’t be sorry, I’d be saying worse things in her state,” she assures her classmate’s mother.
She looks back towards the front desk again to see where her aunt is.
GM: She sees Christina waiting near the reception desk, arms folded and watching her. Other patients are talking to the receptionist. When Amelie makes eye contact, her aunt nods towards a hallway leading out of the waiting room.
Amelie: Amelie nods and turns back. “Excuse me, my aunt is calling me. It was nice to meet you both. I hope I see you in school Monday, Hannah. I’m sorry you’re so sick.” She excuses herself again with a small wave of her good hand and retreats to her aunt’s side.
GM: “Bye…” Hannah grogs.
“It was nice meeting you, Amelie. Get better soon,” her mom adds.
Christina, meanwhile, flags down a nurse and says something about it being “their turn.” The nurse leads them out of the waiting room.
“We’ll still have to wait a little for a doctor, but you’ll at least get to lie down somewhere quiet,” her aunt remarks as they proceed down a hallway. The waiting room’s noise fades to a low din.
Amelie: Amelie doesn’t say anything as she lets her aunt lead her down the hall. She doesn’t want to tip off the nurse as to any improvement in her condition. The promise of a quiet room sounds like a dream come true, however, as does finally seeing a doctor.
GM: The nurse leads the pair into an exam room with a bed to lie down on and an adjacent chair. An oxygen tank, tubing, and other medical equipment sit nearby. The nurse attaches a device that resembles a small smartphone to a band around Amelie’s wrist, then fixes it to a cord that connects it to some of the machines.
“A doctor will be with you soon,” the nurse states, then exits through the door. Amelie and her aunt are left alone in the silent room.
Amelie: Amelie lies on the table and shuts her eyes as soon as the door closes, then finally exhales and lets herself relax.
“You really didn’t need to do that, Auntie. With the reception lady?”
GM: “I think I did,” her aunt replies. “You could have been waiting out there for hours.”
Amelie: “Isn’t that normal? I’ve been in a lot of hospital waiting rooms.”
GM: “Yes, it is normal,” Christina answers.
Amelie: Amelie lets out a small sigh of defeat. “Well, thank you. That’s—I’m sorry it cost you so much, what happened today.”
GM: “You’re welcome,” her aunt replies as she sits down on the chair. “And I’m not. I think that it’s been time and money well-spent.” She then adds more softly, “You can let people do things for you, Amelie. It’s not a tap that you have to worry about running dry.”
Amelie: Amelie doesn’t say a word. It takes a few moments to gather enough courage that she can swallow the frog in her throat.
“I don’t think I’m very good at that, yet.”
GM: “Maybe not, but practice makes perfect.”
Amelie: Amelie lightly shifts and turns to face slightly away from her aunt so she can’t see the expression on her face. Not even her mother ever treated her like this.
“At least this will be good material for the paper,” she says, trying to change the subject.
GM: “I’m sure it will. Perhaps the teacher will give you extra credit for injury ‘in the line of duty,’” her aunt replies, seeming to go along with it.
Amelie: “I’ll get the purple heart of AP Local History.” It takes a few moments, but Amelie finds she can steel herself again and turns onto her back. “You know… Oscar was right. New Orleans is turning out to be a lot to love.”
GM: “Did he say that? I suppose he’s right,” her aunt considers. “Lord knows there are a thousand and one things wrong with the city, but I’m still living here.”
Amelie: “Maybe it’s just the atmosphere I guess. Or Stockholm’s.”
GM: “For someone who loves history as much as you, there should be a lot of places and activities to appreciate. Most of them are pretty safe. Even NOPD isn’t about to let people get their hands stabbed by lunatics around famous landmarks.”
Amelie: “I hope! There’s a dueling tree I want to visit, lots of people have been stabbed there I hear. Though I don’t think I trust that around landmarks. That cop grabbed me right outside the cathedral in Jackson Square.”
GM: Christina’s eyebrows raise. “A cop manhandled you in front of all those people? That could certainly get him in trouble with his boss when he winds up on YouTube.”
Amelie: “He pulled me off to the side to his little golf cart. Tried to be smooth, talking about $50 gift cards for a steak house Mr. Moreno gives him when he brings in crooks. I think I’m the one who’s going to be on YouTube fending off that pickpocket, unfortunately.”
GM: Her aunt frowns. “There was a pickpocket too? Did he make off with anything of yours?”
Amelie: “They were working together, said he’d take me in for assault on him if I didn’t give him the price of taking in two criminals for his steakhouse money. The weasel didn’t get anything. Came back to give him the money, pickpocket was gone out the back of his golf cart.”
GM: “So you drove off the pickpocket and the cop threatened to bring you in for assault. I’m glad he wasn’t able to take anything, or at least anything else,” her aunt frowns. “But that sounds like a pretty strange confidence racket. Struggling over purses is a flimsy assault charge even for NOPD.”
Amelie: “I want a lawyer,” she repeats.
GM: “Very good,” Christina states.
Amelie: Amelie slowly sits up, looks at her wrapped-up hand and lets out a shaky breath. “It’s starting to settle into one of those really dull pains that make you want to flex the muscle.”
GM: “I’m not a doctor or even particularly medically knowledgeable, but my first instinct is to say you shouldn’t risk tearing anything,” her aunt warns. “We’ve got the exam room, so hopefully it won’t be long until the doctor shows.”
Amelie: “Yeah, I’m not risking it. Just starting to hurt more again.” The pain is different enough that Amelie can rest back on the bed, at least. “I decided to take confession while I was at that cathedral as well. The priest suggested I write my father a letter.”
GM: “What do you think of doing that?”
Amelie: “I think it won’t make a difference to him. But that I should do it anyway.”
GM: “Then I will support you in that decision. Maybe you’ll find it cathartic, even if he doesn’t.”
Amelie: “I hope so,” is all she musters. She slowly rests her head back. “A not-so-smart part of me is telling me to go back to that shop someday. Just with less chance of stabbing. Some of those books looked and smelled ancient.”
GM: “Those smarter parts of you are right. I don’t think that would be an at all safe decision,” her aunt declares emphatically. “There are other shops with just as ancient books if you were to go looking, I’m sure.”
Amelie: “Not-so-smart, like I said. I’m sure once I get my business up and running I can get interns to go into that shop and get what I want,” she jokes. There’s a small grin on her face.
GM: “Even better. Take it from another business owner: opening one involves enough hurdles that you’ll probably forget all about those books by the time it’s off the ground.”
Amelie: Amelie nods. “You sound like you built something from nothing, too. Maybe we should sit down one day when I get my business started and talk about it.”
GM: “We could also talk about how you want to start building yours, if you’d like,” her aunt says. “There will be a lot of groundwork, and especially if you want yours up and running by next year-”
Christina is interrupted, however, as the exam room’s door opens. A dark-haired man wearing a physician’s white coat and stethoscope steps through. He looks relatively young for his presumed profession, maybe in his 30s. His hair is shaved to a near buzzcut, and his facial stubble is maybe an hour short of five o’ clock. A shadow-like smile, perhaps made so from his stubble, slowly spreads across his face as his eyes roam over the supine Amelie.
“Good afternoon, ladies. Hopefully you haven’t been waiting too long.”
Amelie: Amelie starts just a little as the door opens. She slowly starts to pull the wrappings off her hand as she sits up and groans a bit as she reveals her hand. “You’re here, that’s what matters.”
GM: “Getting you better is what matters. Hopefully that’ll follow my being here,” the doctor says brightly as he approaches Amelie. “Now, shhh, you just lay back down. You must be pretty tired. Let’s take a look at that hand…”
Amelie: Amelie cocks a brow at how ‘chipper’ the doctor is. She can’t remember the last time someone shushed her like that. But she still turns, sits on the exam bed, and holds out her hand. She rests it on her other hand and keeps the blazer underneath in case it spurts again.
“I’m pretty sure you have… read a chart, or something, but it was a rusty knife. A big one. I tried to keep it in, but it was knocked free.”
GM: “That’s the thing about getting hurt: it never happens the way we’d like,” the doctor smiles.
Meanwhile, a nurse appears. Amelie is subjected to a battery of tests and treatments. The doctor fills a menacingly large hypodermic needle and holds it close to her wound. He doesn’t inject her, but instead depresses a flow of saline solution over the raw and bloody area. It hurts. Debris, sweat, and more blood flushes out and drains into a basin the nurse puts under Amelie’s hand, which she subsequently pats dry with sterile gauze sponges. That hurts too. A lot.
Amelie: If anyone can take pain, it’s Amelie. She bites her lip and nearly breaks the skin on her thigh with her good hand as the nurse sees to her bad one. She trembles when it’s padded off, but stops the nurse for just one moment to take a cellphone picture before it’s wrapped up, then sets her phone on the exam bed behind her. She’s had worse pain in worse places, she tells herself, and tries to make the nurse’s life as easy as possible after the short interruption.
GM: Amelie’s hand is given an x-ray and bandaged up before the doctor gives his prognosis. “All right, Amelie, we have mostly good news for you. There was no damage to your tendons or neurovascular bundles, so you won’t need surgery. But that knife must have been filthy, from how little time you say it was in there, and your wound was infected. We’re going to put you on an oral regimen of cephalexin. If that doesn’t clear up your cellulitis, we’ll try putting you on IV antibiotics.”
He smiles at her again. “Still, that’s good news. You were pretty lucky. Nerve and tendon damage is very common with stab wounds to hands. Surgery can take months to recover from even when successful.”
“So all she has to do is take some pills for a while?” Christina clarifies, her arms having been crossed and lips pressed throughout the procedure.
“And change her bandages, of course,” the doctor adds.
“How are we supposed to tell if she needs to go on IV antibiotics? Or more to the point, once we can tell, would the infection have caused damage preventable by initial IV treatment?”
The doctor does his best to answer Christina’s questions and eventually satisfies her that IV antibiotics are not presently necessary. The two also go down a rather morbid tangent (at Christina’s insistence) where the doctor admits that, yes, if Amelie doesn’t take her cephalexin or follow her wound care instructions, the infection could develop and make it necessary to amputate her hand. Her aunt’s face looks grave at that information. She thoroughly grills the doctor about Amelie’s post-care instructions and types them into her phone as he talks. She also asks for his name and a phone number to contact in case she or Amelie have further questions. The doctor supplies both (his name is Jared Brown) and also gives Amelie a shot of tetanus vaccine when the nurse isn’t able to locate her immunization records. “You’ve probably been immunized already, but just to be sure,” he mentions before depressing the needle into her arm. The doctor applies a band-aid over the sore spot, then doles out two pills and offers Amelie a tall glass of water while the nurse escorts Christina away to “deal with some more insurance business, since we had an x-ray done.”
Amelie: Amelie is glad to have her care done and her bandages made up. Being left alone with this doctor is another matter. Left alone with a man. There’s something about his eyes when he offers her the water and tablets. They make her aunt’s words ring in her head.
“Just give me a moment,” she nods. “I’m horrible with pills. Does the hospital have a cafeteria? Antibiotics on an empty stomach make me vomit.”
GM: “It does, but between you and me, I wouldn’t recommend it as a place to eat,” Dr. Brown smiles. “There’s an in-hospital O’Tolley’s too, but I’m definitely not allowed to recommend that!” he laughs.
“Tell you what, Amelie, you can take these along with something out of your fridge, just so long as you have your aunt take you home straight away. Deal?”
Amelie: Amelie nods again. Hospital food isn’t supposed to taste good, but the hospitals she’s been to had decent baked goods at least.
“Sure. I’m sure we’ll fill the prescription and go straight home afterwards,” she says.
She reaches back to grab her phone and quickly texts her aunt. He still stuck her with a needle.
“Will my hand scar, Dr. Brown?” she asks. “I’ve got enough as it is.”
GM: “It probably will, I’m sorry to say. But ‘count’ your blessings. Your fingers are still going to work fine, after all!” the doctor smiles.
Amelie: Amelie nods. She’s not too broken up about it. “I have worse. Would you mind if I had a moment of privacy? I need to fix myself and make a quick phone call.”
GM: “You mean share that picture of your hand over Facebook?” Dr. Brown chuckles. “But all right, Amelie. Give a shout when you’re done.”
Amelie: Amelie nods to the doctor and breathes a short sigh of relief once he’s gone. She takes a picture of the clock and leaves a note in her phone about the bad feeling the doctor gives her. She crosses her legs to take off her blood-soaked left sock, puts it on the exam table’s paper, and fans her foot off. She waits patiently for her aunt and doesn’t make any movements that could raise her heart rate.
GM: A response pings back from her aunt after a moment.
Amelie strains and strains to make out any noises from Dr. Brown on the other side of the door. It feels like there’s so much ambient noise in the hospital, so many vibrations past the ceiling and walls, that it’s impossible to be sure. Amelie can only lie in place on the exam table. It is very easy to feel alone. It is even easier to feel hurt and vulnerable.
The door suddenly opens. Christina’s gaze lingers on Amelie, then fixes on Dr. Brown, who is also standing just outside. He smiles when he sees her.
Amelie: Amelie bolts upright when the door opens, but gives a deep sigh of relief when she sees who it is. It’s arrested when she sees the doctor. She slowly gets up, slips her foot into her sneaker, and stuffs the bloody sock into her pocket.
GM: Amelie’s aunt and Dr. Brown go over her after-care instructions one more time as he writes the prescription for her medication. Christina also double-checks his phone number, and Dr. Brown adds that Amelie should feel free to call him anytime if she has any symptoms she’d like to discuss.
“And that’s that. Hopefully you won’t be seeing me again too soon,” the doctor smiles at Amelie, “but you never can know.”
Amelie: “Thank you, Doctor,” is all Amelie manages as she takes her aunt’s hand and hopes the gesture convinces the woman they can and should leave.
GM: Christina’s hand feels taut in Amelie’s as she crisply thanks Dr. Brown and takes their leave from the hospital. Hannah and her mother are still sitting in the same waiting room spot where Amelie left them. The former’s eyes are closed.
A light drizzle is falling when the pair exit the hospital’s sliding doors. Aunt and niece observe that the former’s car, parked in the disabled persons space, has a damp-looking ticket on its windshield. Amelie’s attentive eyes even note the amount is for $275 before Christina pulls it off.
Amelie: Amelie breathes a palpable sigh of relief when they finally step through the hospital doors. It feels good to be out in the open, rain or no rain, and away from the whiff she caught off that doctor. The parking ticket is just more spit in the face, but she files the price away in the back of her head and makes no mention of it. She’ll pay her aunt back for today.
GM: “Did he do anything to you at all past giving a bad vibe?” her aunt asks as they get in the car. She stops first to get the door for Amelie.
Amelie: “He handed me two pills,” Amelie answers after sliding into the car and thanking the older woman for helping her. “They’re in my pocket. I got such a bad vibe off him, I didn’t believe they were antibiotics. That little chill was enough to make me worried after today. I’m sorry for stressing you out.”
GM: Her aunt frowns, then says, “All right, you can throw those out while I go back to pick up your prescription. I’d have needed to do that soon anyways. You stay here in the car and rest.”
Christina closes and locks the door, then heads back to the hospital. Amelie is free to listen to the radio, play on her phone, or simply close her eyes and rest while she listens to the lightly plunking rain. The car’s windows are rolled all the way up, and the air-conditioned interior is blissfully cool against the hot and humid air.
Amelie: Amelie doesn’t close her eyes, but she momentarily opens the door to toss the pills under the car’s tires, where they’ll be crushed. She then closes the door, locks it back up, and stares straight ahead in a daze until they open again.
GM: Her aunt eventually returns with a small white paper bag in hand. Rain lightly patters against its surface and leaves dark spots. The Dixie sun still seems fat and swollen past the now-overcast sky, but it’s a hazy thing clearly no longer at its zenith. Her aunt starts the car and pulls them out of the hospital parking lot.
“Also, you remember what I said about letting people do things for you?” Christina brings up. “The next time you want to say ‘sorry’ to someone, try a ‘thanks’ instead. You’ll both probably feel better.”
Amelie: Amelie blinks back into the real world and smiles at the sight of her aunt. Her advice is good advice. It’s something she should adopt from this culture and throw away from an older one.
She remembers the priest’s words that children are a gift. She’s never felt like that was true in her case.
She closes her eyes, rests her head back, and can’t hide the small tremble in her voice when she croaks out a soft but sincere,
“Thank you, Auntie.”